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Premature harvests put French wine to the test

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the winegrowers French have been forced to greatly advance the vintage this year because of the temperatures, and now the question is to know how this heat wave will affect the quality of the grape.

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From the hills of L’Hérault (southeast) to Alsace in the northeast of the country, many owners have already started to cut the vines, after three long waves of heat.

The ripening of the grapes led to a harvest at the end of July in Roussillon, something exceptional. The trend in the rest of the country is for the harvest to start one to three weeks earlier than expected.

“We were surprised, [las uvas] they started to ripen very quickly in the last few days,” explained Francois Capdellayre, president of the Dom Brial wine cooperative in Baixas, near Perpignan (southeast).

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“Never in thirty years have I started my harvest on August 9,” said Jérôme Despey, owner in the L’Hérault region.

The grape dries up

Like many other farmers, French winegrowers have been gradually adapting to the new climatic reality.

But the exceptional drought this year, with a month of July that broke the previous record of 1961, and the heat spikes have accelerated things.

Only 10% of French vineyards use artificial irrigation systems, which can be very expensive or very complicated to install.

Vines are particularly resistant plants, whose roots penetrate deep into the ground in search of water.

Viticulturists historically prefer the sun to excess rain because water stress favors the level of sugar in the grape. And the rains outside the natural cycle of spring causes the appearance of fungi.

But the current situation exceeds expectations. When water is excessively scarce, the vine protects itself by losing leaves and ceasing to supply nutrients to the grapes, which interrupts their development.

“Not a drop of rain has fallen in two months,” explained Gilles Ehrhart, president of the regional association of winegrowers, in Alsace. “We are going to have a very, very small harvest,” predicts this veteran farmer.

When the temperature exceeds 38° centigrade, “the grape dries up, loses volume and quality suffers,” he explains.

The level of sugar becomes excessive and this causes an alcohol level “too high for consumers”, adds Pierre Champetier, president of the Protected Designation of Origin of the Ardeche region, south of Lyon.

Champetier started picking the grapes last Monday. “40 years ago we started around September 20,” he explained.

hold out until the last moment

Some grape harvesters hold out until the last moment, waiting for a few drops of water. This is the case for some growers in L’Hérault, where the harvest should start in early September.

Two years ago, Burgundy witnessed its earliest vintage in four centuries of records. It was August 16. For this year they plan to remove the shears on August 25.

In the Rhône Valley, further south, “the heat wave has accelerated ripening by more than 20 days compared to last year,” said the local growers’ association.

Wine growers in that region hope that the quality will not suffer.

In Champagne (northeast), the harvest will begin at the end of August. Viticulturists calculate a loss of 9% due to frost and hail storms during the spring.

In the Bordeaux region, the grapes used for sparkling whites will begin harvesting on August 17.

Then will come the dry whites, the sweet ones and finally the red wines, which give this region a special reputation.

Source: Gestion

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